DDP Talks To:
Laurel Winton (Founder & Executive Director)
1. Tell us about your background/personal story.
I grew up in San Francisco and was raised in the Haight Ashbury by an artist mother and lawyer father. I fell in love with dance once I started performing in the San Francisco Ballet Nutcracker and received a full merit scholarship as I progressed in the School. I danced for Pennsylvania Ballet for one year (now Philadelphia Ballet) before joining the Joffrey Ballet for five years. I competed as a senior soloist in the International Ballet Competition in Jackson, MI before leaving Joffrey to play the lead role of “Penny” on the national broadway tour of Dirty Dancing. This tour brought me to NYC where I landed a costar role on the first season of CBS’s Bull. Getting the itch to be in a dance company again, I guested with ASFB in their Nutcracker and joined the company full time the following season.
2. Walk us through the founding of the company. How did it start? I recognize that you and I share a bond in that we are both reluctant entrepreneurs. I kept looking for an alternative to founding DDP – you were happy dancing for Aspen-Santa Fe Ballet.
Like you said, I never meant to start a company! The pandemic hit, we lost our jobs and we had no other way to exist as professional dancers in Aspen. There was no longer a resident company and none of us wanted to leave the community and families we built. Aspen was our home. I started asking around to my friends in the community if having a company here was something that mattered to them, and the encouragement I received to continue my art here was enough to get everyone together and just go for it. It was really natural because we all were like family and worked so well together from being in ASFB. We stuck together and everyone used their connections in the industry to bring creations and resources to this thing we started building out of necessity.
3. What’s special about being a woman-led company? In our discussion, you made the creation of the company and its administration sound extremely collaborative.
It is empowering for young women in dance to see women run what for many years was (and still is) a male dominated industry. Not that there is anything wrong with men running dance companies, but [being a woman-led company] may just make young women realize that they do have the capacity to fulfill a much broader scope of responsibilities in the dance world than just to be on stage. The stage has always been my favorite place to be, but now I am stepping into a different kind of performance – we all are – of running the company. DanceAspen is a very unique company because every facet – every level of the company – has been built and is being developed by the artists of the company, from marketing to outreach development to fundraising, and especially creatively. As founding members of the company, we get decide who we bring in to work with. This is also empowering and gives everyone a sense of having equity in the company.
4. What challenges have you faced over the last almost two years with the pandemic? You have been quite successful in fundraising, and former Board members have stepped forward to support you.
The pandemic was incredibly difficult for us, as it was for the rest of our industry. It was hard to see other companies get back to work while we were realizing that we would not. But seeing other companies come out of the pandemic also gave us the strength to know our careers weren’t obsolete and were worth fighting for. The fundraising came as a surprise and is a testament to the community of Aspen and the value that its people put on local artists. I was paying out of pocket for most of the summer for essential things like flights and rehearsal space. We were getting work generously donated to us by choreographers and were working around the dancers’ serving and retail jobs. I think our resilience, combined with the fact that our community really wanted this to happen, was what got us raising money quickly. We also had a lot of guidance from experts in the legal, financial, and development sectors and with such a strong appreciation for the arts already built in, it was the perfect storm to get us going.
5. What skills have you learned since taking the plunge?
Oh my gosh, I have learned and continue to learn new skills everyday! It is not easy running a nonprofit, and I respect anyone who successfully does this job. I talk to our financial advisor everyday and have learned quite a bit about budgeting for shows and creations. I also personally write up all the contracts, so I’m learning different ways to go about that and the necessary clauses to put in each type of contract. I have a great fundraising mentor, as well, and am constantly learning from him the finesse and boldness needed to raise money.
6. Any exciting news or upcoming commissions you’d like to share with us?
Lots of exciting things in the works! We have a few collaborations coming up with other Aspen-centric organizations, including Theatre Aspen and The Skico Company, but our next big DanceAspen show will be an all-female program consisting of new creations by Ana Maria Lucaciu, Danielle Rowe, Adji Cissoko, and a re-setting by Caili Quan.
7. What does the future look like?
Though we have a lot of work ahead of us before we can contribute to the Aspen and dance communities in the way we would like to, we are building a fantastic team of supportive donors, partnering with some amazing organizations and companies, and cultivating artists with bold and innovative ideas. I’d say the future of DanceAspen is pretty bright!
8. What do you and your co-founders do for fun?
We love to ski and snowboard!